The Lion in Winter Summary

Set during Christmas 1183 at Henry II of England's castle in Chinon, the play opens with the arrival of Henry's wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, whom he has had imprisoned since 1173. The story concerns the gamesmanship between Henry, Eleanor, their three surviving sons Richard, Geoffrey, and John, and their Christmas Court guest, the King of France, Philip II Augustus, who was the son of Eleanor's ex-husband, Louis VII of France. Also involved is Philip's half-sister Alais, who has been at court since she was betrothed to Richard at age eight. She has since become Henry's mistress.

Henry II, King of England (Age 50)

Henry is the king of England and about half of France. Though aging, he is still very nearly as vital as he ever was. His manipulations of family and others are portrayed as spontaneous and emotional as opposed to the well-thought-out stratagems of Eleanor, and the cold, calculating machinations of Geoffrey.

Queen Eleanor (Age 61)

Eleanor is the wife of Henry and a beautiful woman of hot temperament, and great authority and presence. She has been a queen for nearly 46 years (although imprisoned for 10) and is thoroughly capable of holding her own in a man's world. She schemes against Henry and loves him intensely at the same time. She has contempt for her children but is not willing to see them harmed.

John (Age 16)

He is the youngest son of Henry and Eleanor. He is sulky and sullen, with a boyish outlook on his position; many in the play describe him as a spoiled brat. He is described in the play as pimply and smelling of compost. He is Henry's favorite, but also the weakest. He vacillates throughout the play, not out of cleverness, but out of fear and weakness. He is easily tricked and manipulated by Geoffrey.

Geoffrey (Age 25)

He is a son of Henry and Eleanor, and a man of energy and action. He is attractive, charming and has the strongest intellect of the family; he is also a cold, amoral schemer. His view of himself is of one who yearned greatly for the love of his parents while receiving none. Yet the play leaves open to question whether any of Henry's three sons should be thought to have been truly loved by either Henry or Eleanor, and not merely used by King and Queen as pawns in their ceaseless scheming against one another.

Richard (Age 26)

The eldest surviving son of Henry and Eleanor, their second son Henry having recently died. Richard is handsome, graceful and impressive and has been a famous soldier since his middle teens. War is his profession and he is good at it. He is easily the strongest and toughest of the three princes. Richard and Philip II have been sexually involved prior to the action of the play. However, while Philip declares that he participated in the affair for purely political purposes, Richard bore Philip a genuine affection.

Alais Capet (Age 23)

She is in love with Henry. Everyone underestimates her intellect and power. She is initially portrayed as innocent, but by the end of the play has begun to acquire a ruthless streak of her own, insisting that Henry imprison his three sons for the rest of their lives in the dungeon.

Philip II, King of France (Age 18)

He has been King of France for three years. He is not initially as accomplished as Henry in manipulating people, but seems to acquire greater skills during the action of the play. He is impressive and handsome without being a pretty boy.